31 October 2004


by Matt Rubinstein at 2:54 pm

Respected medical journal The Lancet estimates that the war in Iraq has caused 100,000 additional deaths—that is, additional to the deaths caused before the invasion by the stiff UN sanctions, the ongoing effects of the last Gulf War, and Saddam combined, and not including the bloodbath in Fallujah:

This survey indicates that the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably about 100 000 people, and may be much higher. We have shown that even in extremely difficult circumstances, the collection of valid data is possible, albeit with limited precision. In this case, the lack of precision does not hinder the clear identification of the major public-health problem in Iraq—violence.

It may be worth treating these figures with caution, since they are a lot higher than any other count so far (which have stayed between 10,000 and 37,000) and are extrapolated from samples rather than overall reported deaths. On the other hand, it’s very likely that a significant proportion of deaths go unreported. And, still on that same hand, The Lancet is a respected medical journal (everyone says so) and they reckon they’re being conservative.

Even if the figures are out by a lot, they’re still appalling. But our ever-reliable defence minister Senator Robert Hill had only this to say:

Unfortunately there will always be… some civilian casualties. The removal of Saddam Hussein, somebody who has contributed to have killed at least 300,000 innocent Iraqis, is… of great benefit to future generations of Iraqi people.

He didn’t mention that Saddam took 30 years to kill that many civilians, whereas according to the estimate he (Hill) was responding to the invasion has racked up a third of that number in only 18 months. The Lancet estimates that the risk of death has increased by around 250% since the invasion, compared to the period immediately beforehand (though this falls to 150% if Fallujah is excluded).

Now, I fully believe that Saddam was a terrible guy and that removing him from power was the only good reason for the war—or would have been, if it ever was an actual reason. But we’ve got to ask—as a lot of Iraqis must be asking—whether it was worth all this. It seems like we’re coming dangerously close to the old “We had to destroy the village in order to save it” line, which, however apocryphal in relation to Ben Tre, seems increasingly well-suited to Iraq.

It seems to me that if the protection of the Iraqi people had been a real ex ante reason for the invasion, we’d be making more of an effort to actually protect them. There had to have been a better way to remove Saddam from power than the way we went about it. I don’t know how—maybe by doing things the internationally-legal way, marshalling more support and if necessary more troops to make sure that key positions could be taken without just bombing the hell out of everyone. Maybe by spending more effort convincing more Iraqis that they’d be better off in a democracy and this whole insurgency thing wasn’t necessary. We must have been able to do it better than this.

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